Christmas in modern-day Bethlehem
What would happen if the Christmas story, as told in the Bible, took place in Bethlehem today?
If Mary and Joseph travelled from Galilee in northern Israel down to Bethlehem in the disputed Palestinian territories for the birth of their son Jesus?
A group of New Zealand filmmakers wanted to find out, so they travelled to Bethlehem in October and made a short film, O Little Town of Bethlehem.
In the film, Palestinians explain how Mary and Joseph would now need a permit from Israel to cross through the 700km-high, 8m-tall concrete wall separating Jerusalem from Bethlehem.
Mary would likely face being the victim of an honour killing or being thrown out of her family for getting pregnant before she was married.
And the new family would be refugees, much like the Palestinians in West bank camps.
O Little Town of Bethlehem’s director Tim Parsons says he wanted to remind people that the place where the Christmas story began is one that has been in almost constant turmoil for 2000 years.
“Often the way we celebrate Christmas it ends up feeling a bit surreal and a bit removed from reality,” he says.
The film was funded with the help of Auckland church St Paul’s, but Mr Parsons hopes that it will resonate with non-Christians too.
“I wanted to see if I could find whether the story of Jesus had any relevance to human beings regardless of religion or lack of, whatever anyone’s belief.”
Mr Parsons says many people don’t realise that the story of Jesus’ birth is also told in Islam’s holy text, the Koran.
“Muslims really revere Jesus. They do have a different understanding of the story, but I wanted to focus on the common ground.”
He says the commonality became apparent once he started talking to the locals. Many of those featured in the film are Muslims, including shepherd Mansour, whom the film crew came across by chance wandering the fields on the outskirts of Bethlehem.
Mansour is just as comfortable telling the story of Jesus as he is watching YouTube clips of Palestinian pop groups on his mobile phone.
Mr Parsons says he tried as much as possible not to make the film political, even though it is an inescapable part of life for Palestinians.
The film crew were in Bethlehem before tensions flared between Palestine and Israel over the Gaza Strip, allowing them to capture less violent scenes than what New Zealanders are used to seeing on the news.
“It’s just quite refreshing for people to see something from that part of the world that doesn’t have to chop that stuff out,” says Mr Parsons.
He hopes his film will engender people with the peaceful spirit of Christmas, regardless of whether or not they believe the story of Jesus.
Click the 'video' tab to watch the film.